Darren Rahn Interview
"It is great to look to
the guys who are most successful in the business, and ask what they have
done, but I would say without exception that the greatest (artists) are
the ones that when they play one or two notes, you automatically know who
they are," saidys Denver Colorado native Darren Rahn, and he ought to know.
The transplanted Canadian has established himself as one of the premier
smooth jazz saxophonists, while building a dual career as a highly respected
producer, who among other accomplishments, helped send Wayman Tisdale's
CD Way Up all the way to the # 1 spot on the Billboard music charts.
The cool groove sax man
is one of the most likeable guys in the music industry, and the preceding
comment was his response to my question concerning what advice he would
offer to a young artist at the beginning of their career. "Rather than
encouraging an artist to move to New York City or LA (as the most important
priority), you really have to find out who you are as a musician, and who
you want to be. It is then your responsibility to go get it. That can be
done nowadays, from almost anywhere," Rahm said.
Once In a Lifetime, Rahn's
current CD, which features guest artists Wayman Tisdale, Dave Koz and Jeff
Lorber, is one of the best smooth jazz albums released in 2007. It has
been recognized north of the American border, with two nominations for
the Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards, most notably in the Album of the Year
"I have worked very hard
as a saxophonist to have my own voice, and perhaps that caught their attention.
There really is so much talent in that category, that it is an honor to
be included (with that group of musicians). I do know that a lot of people
are also familiar with the work that I have done as a producer, with artists
such as Wayman Tisdale, Dave Koz and Jeff Lorber. Those collaborations
are really great. Maybe people are starting to recognize those collaborations.
I don't know if there is something that you can really pinpoint, that makes
people say, 'Hey, let's nominate this CD for Album of the Year.' I am certainly
thankful that they see it that way," said Rahn.
Straight ahead and bop jazz
artists are usually associated with New York City and the eastern seaboard,
while California tends to be a hotbed for smooth jazz musicians, so it
probably took a little longer for Rahn's talent to be recognized since
he lives in Denver. He has, however, adopted the glass half-full attitude,
and sees it as far more likely that people will remember him as the saxophonist
from Denver, than they would if he lived in a more intense musical environment
such as Los Angeles or New York City. In those centers, he might become
lost among the sea of musicians. It is becoming increasingly difficult
to imagine that anyone will soon forget who Darren Rahn is, especially
when you listen to songs such as "Side Steppin'," and "Uptown," from his
"The record (Once In A Lifetime)
was developed around a bunch of unique experiences in my life. My wife
Heather and I had decided to start a family, so during the course of that
record she was pregnant with our first child. Also, I had enjoyed some
success as the producer for Wayman Tisdale's # 1 hit, "Ain't No Stopping
Us Now." They (the songs on Once In a Lifetime), are about real life experiences
which have meaning and feelings attached to them, and I tried my best to
translate that into music. It is very important for me to convey (those
feelings) to the listener. The most important thing is for me to share
music with other people. When I see a smile on someone's face, or someone
says that your music has affected me in a positive way that is my greatest
reward in doing music.
"There were just so many
circumstances around that first record that were really once in a lifetime
experiences. I tried my best to translate that into music. They are songs
that are real life experiences with meaning and feelings attached to them.
On the album I tried very hard to express myself but within a context that
I felt would uplift people, and draw the listener in," said Rahn.
"I am very people oriented and I want the music to have a universal appeal.
That is always a big focus for me. Everyone that I have worked with has
shared that same thing. As an artist, I want to do my own thing, but I
want to ensure that the music is going to reach people and that people
want to listen to it. (As a producer) I want to ensure that the musicians'
instruments are heard with (the artists') personalities. If it is too contrived,
I don't think that it will do as well."
Someone eavesdropping upon
our conversation might think Rahn has a split personality, if they had
not caught my question as to how Rahn separates the artist from the producer
on studio projects such as Once In A Lifetime , where he wore both hats.
"They are two very separate things, and I keep them very separate. As an
artist, I try to treat myself as though I was a different producer. When
I am working on records, the producer has the final word. Many times I
will be in a recording booth recording with my saxophone and the artist
side of me will say that is really cool, or that is a really great lick,
but if it is not right for the song the producer self will tell the artist
self, 'Sorry I can't do that.' When I am working on records, I always defer
to that producer self. As musicians, we like to play and sometimes we get
carried away. I have to let the producer set the ground rules, and I have
to make myself redo things. It is no different than when I work with other
artists. As an artist, I may want one thing, but the producer makes the
final decision," said Rahn the producer, or was that Rahn the artist.
Having a dual career has
enhanced Rahn's skills as both a producer and an artist. He explained,
"Being an artist makes me a better producer, and being a producer makes
me a better artist, as long as I keep those two things delineated and understand
the role of each. I will even broaden that to say that with music in general,
the more that you can learn, the more that you can do, and the more diverse
that you can be, it affects every other aspect of your musicianship. For
people who play multiple instruments, even if they are not great on some
of those instruments it expands their knowledge of them. If you know how
to play a little bit of guitar, when you are out touring it is easier to
understand what may be going on in the guitar player's head. You can therefore
lead or direct in a way that you might not otherwise be able to do. I think
that the more diverse that you can be, helps sharpens you in other areas."
Throughout our time together,
however, Darren Rahn's conversation always drifts back to how his music
affects people. He related to me an experience he had following his performance
at the Catalina Jazz Festival in October of 2006, "We were signing CDs
backstage when a woman walked up to me, who had one month earlier been
diagnosed with cancer. It had been the darkest time of her life. She said
that while we were performing she just felt like something had changed
inside of her. She said that it was the first time since she had been diagnosed
with cancer that she had experienced joy. I was so humbled by that, and
it made me realize that no matter what I am feeling on stage, there are
people in the audience who may be there for a reason that I can't even
fathom. To see someone who was touched in that way was the most incredible
experience that I have had. The performance felt good, but I will not say
that it was the most amazing performance that I have done, however the
experience afterwards is the tangible proof that someone was positively
affected by the music. That is the moment that stands out most in my mind.
When I think about what is important to me as a performer that is the most
tremendous experience that I have ever had." That is probably
the most important thing that you need to know about Darren Rahn, because
it tells you that his music flows from his heart.
By Joe Montague, exclusive
Joe Montague is an internationally
published journalist / photographer and the publisher of Riveting Riffs,
www.rivetingriffs.com . His ministry is dedicated to the memory of his
late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18. All copyright
and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.